Helen Gurley Brown is looking good. She's wearing a Chanel-look fuchsia
suit with black fishnet stockings and reams of gold jewellery. "Most
of it is just cheap," she says.
Helen Gurley Brown, 80, is the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan International.
"No it's not," I correct her, noticing at least two Chanel bangles
and a Cartier or two.
"OK, so they're not all cheap," says the 80-year-old glamour girl,
who is eyeing my attire. "I want your boots," Gurley Brown tells
me, referring to my knee-high snake-look tan footwear. "Where did you
get them?" On closer inspection she complains, "The heel's not
Not high enough? "It's at least three inches," I tell her. She
"It's OK to love clothes and jewellery," she says, defending herself.
"It doesn't mean you are a bad person. You can still be a meaningful
member of the human race."
Gurley Brown is rail thin and confides that she always has been. "But
when I turned 40," she says, "I started doing old-fashioned calisthenics
for one and a half hours every day, and I'm still doing them."
In spite of her 100-pound frame she says, "I never met a dessert I
didn't like." If she was eating now, "I'd start with calamari,
and then I'd have crab cakes and creamed spinach, without the cream. But
sometimes, I not only skip desserts, I skip meals." Today she's skipping.
So much for lunch, but fasting won't hurt me either.
I grew up on Helen Gurley Brown. As a young woman, I was devoted to Cosmopolitan,
a magazine she still has a hand in running. (She is editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan
International.) I ask her about the U.S. Cosmo that she no longer runs,
and that I no longer buy.
"It's different than it used to be. When I had it, we did one major
article on sex, one article on man/woman relationships, one on career and
one on health. The new Cosmo deals mainly with men/women relationships and
sex," she says. "But it works. People are buying it -- it's No.
1 among college girls." And even though it's not the same magazine
she edited for 32 years, "the idea is the same -- to help the reader
improve her life, solve problems and find a man."
Find a man? I'm shocked. "Is the object of the game still to find a
She nods. "Cosmo gives hope and inspiration to help you get out there."
To prove her point, Gurley Brown tells me the publishers want to do a reprint
of her '60s bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl.
"But I'll be writing a chapter on how things have changed," she
admits. "When I wrote the book, the reigning philosophy was that if
you were single, female and 30, you might as well throw yourself over the
Grand Canyon. And if you were single, female and having sex, it was really
"My feeling," says Gurley Brown, "is have sex and enjoy it
-- marriage, you can always get, there's no raging race to get married."
She says she's also noticing that "men are handling 'that kind of woman'
better." That's because "they don't have any choice", she
says, but it's also because, according to her, 1. the independent woman
is bringing in a lot more money; 2. the man's friends and associates are
impressed with her success; and 3. the woman is still doing most of the
other "stuff", like sending the Christmas cards, organizing the
social calendar and managing the housework.
"We hope that in another lifetime, men will become our domestic equals,"
she says sarcastically, "but it hasn't happened yet."
Gurley Brown is married to well-known movie producer 88- year-old David
Brown (Jaws, Chocolat, Angela's Ashes), who was in town recently for a conference
sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation and The Royal Ontario
Museum. "I was involved with a couple of womanizers when I was in my
20s, one an accomplished Don Juan," says Gurley Brown, who was 37 when
she wed. "I want to point out Don Juans wouldn't have so much luck
with women if they weren't good at 'something', if you know what I mean.
"You can't help it. You always go back [to that type]. When David came
along, I was 37 and I thought, 'This is an honourable guy, he won't lie,
cheat, or steal, and he's good in bed.' " But he didn't want to marry
her, she confides. "He'd been married twice before."
What did she do? "I used emotional blackmail," she tells me. "I
told him, 'I love you, I'll miss you, but you have to disappear because
I want to get married.'
"I'd been single long enough," she says. "Two weeks later
he called. They always call after two weeks," she informs me. (She's
right.) "When he called I said, 'Do you want to get married?', and
he said, 'We need to talk'. I told him, 'We've already talked.' And I wouldn't
He came back after six weeks. "He wanted to come over and go to bed,
as usual with men," she says, "but we set a date." Even then,
says Gurley Brown, her soon-to-be husband was still balking.
"David said, 'I'm a good guy, I'm not cheap, we get along great, so
why do you want to get married?' " More proof, we agree, that men have
to be dragged down the aisle kicking and screaming.
Gurley Brown tells me that she's been a good wife (43 years and counting).
"I think it's because I had all my affairs before I got married."
"If your husband had had an affair, would you have left him?"
"I wouldn't have left him, I would have killed him," she says.
"I could never have gone through what I went through with the Don Juan
all over again. I couldn't face it. I would have had to divorce him."
But she recognizes the contradiction. "In my book, Sex and the Single
Girl, I advise single women to sleep with married men," she tells me,
"for the experience."
This non-apologetic '60s icon says her best advice to women is "Never
tell your guy how many men you've slept with." She gets her point across
in a poem she's made up. Here it is:
"How many men before me, he'll ask?
Trying to tell, is quite a task
The 5th Amendment, he's not buying,
If you say 'none,' he'll know you're lying
So throw him a number, with charm and grace
So that you can take your place
Somewhere between slut and virginity
The number you should throw is...three."
So three it is. "I never talk about my past to my husband," Gurley
Brown says, "except one old boyfriend of mine from Zurich, who, even
after I married, sent me a 12-pound box of chocolates every Christmas.
"He died a few years ago," she says, sighing. "We miss the